Sermon for the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost – October 24, 2021

CLICK HERE for a worship video for October 24

Sermon for the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost – October 24, 2021

Mark 10:46-52

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father, and our Lord and savior Jesus Christ.

Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, sat on the roadside, listening to the people pass. The road from Jericho to Jerusalem was busier than usual. It was what we here on Whidbey Island might call tourist season. There was a great influx of travelers making their way from Jericho to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

Jesus and his disciples were traveling this very road. Jesus was just hours away from his triumphal entry into Jerusalem, which we celebrate on Palm Sunday. He was just hours away from people shouting, “Hosanna!” and “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!” Jesus was just hours away from the events that would lead to his betrayal, his suffering, his death on the cross, and his resurrection on the third day – which he had predicted to his disciples several times now. All of this was now just hours away from happening.

Bartimaeus heard that Jesus of Nazareth was one of those traveling the road. We don’t know if he heard Jesus’ voice and recognized it somehow, or if he heard chatter in the crowd that Jesus was making his way down the road.  I had a member in my first church in Montana who was blind. His name was Terry. I remember seeing him at the grocery store shortly after Amy and I arrived in Montana. I said hi to him, and he replied right back, “Oh, hi Pastor Jeff!” I was surprised he knew it was me, as we had only met once or twice before at that point. As if sensing my surprise, he quickly added, “When you are blind you get very good at recognizing voices.” So perhaps it was with this extra keen sense of hearing that Bartimaeus knew that Jesus was near.

Not only that, but Bartimaeus also knew who Jesus was. He called him Son of David, showing that he knew Jesus was the promised Messiah. He knew Jesus was the long-awaited ancestor of David who had come to save. And so just hours before anyone began shouting their hosannas, Bartimaeus shouted out: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” When people sternly told him to be quiet, he cried out even more, saying again even louder, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

These are hard words to say. It is hard to ask for help. It is hard to ask for mercy. To ask for help is to admit weakness. To ask for mercy is to confess that your own strength or standing isn’t enough.

I remember going to a gathering hosted by the chaplain’s office at NAS Whidbey where they briefed local clergy on all the resources available to Navy personnel and their families. There is help for struggling marriages, and help for alcohol and drug problems, and help for financial management, and help for mental health struggles. The problem the chaplain’s office saw was that a lot of the people who need this help couldn’t or wouldn’t bring themselves to ask for it. All the pastors nodded their heads, because we see the same problem in the church all the time! People don’t like to admit that they need help. I think maybe it might help a little bit to be part of a liturgical church, where we begin our worship with the Kyrie Eleison. Most Sundays we sing very the same words we hear Bartimaeus cry out today: “Lord, have mercy.” I sing it, because I need it! You sing it, because you need it too! We need help, and the Kyrie helps us ask for it week after week. But even with this refrain Sunday after Sunday, we still struggle to ask for help.

Well, not Bartimaeus. He cried out his Kyrie Eleison and it stopped Jesus in his tracks. Jesus stood still when he heard him. He sent his disciples to bring Bartimaeus to him. The disciples said to Bartimaeus, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you!” What a beautiful thing to say to this blind beggar! What wonderful words to hear! They were so wonderful that Bartimaeus threw of his cloak and sprang up!

We might think of Bartimaeus throwing aside his cloak as just a minor detail in the story, but I think it is more than that. That cloak was likely this blind beggar’s only possession. Beggars in that time used their cloaks as a way to catch the coins that passersby would fling their direction, kind of like how a street performer might use a guitar case. When Bartimaeus wasn’t using it as his offering basket, that cloak was the only thing that kept him warm at night. This cloak was important to him! But these words from Jesus’ disciples were enough for him to cast that cloak aside. He trusted their words and he had faith in Christ, faith enough to let go of the only thing he possessed.

I am a huge Peanuts fan (the cartoon by Charles Schultz, not the ones in the shell that you eat at baseball games – though I am fond of those too). Many of you know the character of Linus in Peanuts. As someone who has struggled with low-grade anxiety all my life, I have always loved Linus. Linus clearly has anxiety issues too, which are evident in his ever-present security blanket. Linus’ attachment to that blanket is an ongoing plot point in many of the cartoon strips as Lucy and Snoopy try to separate him from it. Linus clings to that blanket in every cell, every scene – every scene, except for one. In the TV special “A Charlie Brown Christmas,” as Linus takes center stage and recites the Christmas story from the gospel of Luke, he at last lets go of the blanket. In fact, it is right as he says, “Fear not,” that he drops it. This is Linus’, and maybe Charles Schultz’s, way of telling us that the coming of Jesus means we can let go of all we cling to for security in this life. We can let go of our fears, our anxieties, in order to take hold of the peace and wholeness and new life that Christ brings.

I believe this is exactly what is happening with Bartimaeus. He set aside his cloak, his sole possession, his security blanket, because he had been called by Jesus, and he trusted that Jesus would give him what he needed. He trusted that Jesus would help, that he would have mercy on him. And Jesus did just that. Jesus restored Bartimaeus’ sight.

But there is more happening here too. Jesus said, “Go, your faith has made you well.” The Greek root word for “well” here is sozo, which is about more than sight. It is about more than physical health. It is the same word that is translated elsewhere as “salvation.” Bartimaeus could not only see again, he had experienced salvation!

Jesus continued down the road to Jerusalem, now with Bartimaeus following him on the way. And it was in Jerusalem that Jesus would make us well too – in the biggest, grandest, truest sense possible. It was in Jerusalem, where Jesus was betrayed and suffered and died and rose, so that we too could be saved, so that we could be healed, restored, so that we too could experience salvation.

Bartimaeus not only had his sight restored, he helps us to see something important about Jesus. He helps us to see that we don’t need to be afraid to ask Jesus for help, for mercy. Bartimaeus helps us to see that we can take heart, for Jesus has called us too. Bartimaeus helps us to see that we can let go of those things we’re clinging to, we can let go of our fears, and instead boldly cling to Christ. Bartimaeus helps us to see that faith in Jesus, simply letting go and trusting in him, makes us well too.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church

Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – October 7, 2021

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Sermon for the Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost – October 10, 2021

Mark 10:17-31

Dear friends, grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord Jesus Christ.

The man who ran up to Jesus in our gospel reading had it all. He was rich. In Matthew’s version of this story we also learn that he was a ruler, so he had power. He had status. Matthew also tells us he was young, so it is probably safe to say he still had his looks and his health as well.

But, as so often happens still today, that superficial stuff didn’t tell the whole story. He didn’t really have it all, did he? Something was missing in his life. Something was missing, and he went to Jesus to find it. In fact, he ran to Jesus! This was urgent! He knelt before Jesus, showing both his vulnerability and his reverence for Christ. And then came the question: “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

He didn’t really have it all, did he? He lacked a relationship with God. He had something nagging at him that said that there was more to life than all the outward blessings he had. Those things weren’t providing him with peace and contentment and hope. They weren’t providing him with true joy, the kind of joy that can only come from an intimate relationship with God. And so he fell at Jesus’ feet and said to him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” This was more than a question about going to heaven when he died. This was about having a relationship with God that would begin now in this life and continue forever. What did he need to do to get that?

“Why do you call me good?” Jesus replied. “No one is good but God alone!” Jesus’ initial response seems a little smart-alecky, and maybe even rude, but it provides the first hint of an answer to this young rich ruler. “No one is good!” Jesus says. No one has a relationship with God based on their goodness! And then, as if to show him that no one is good but God alone, Jesus starts listing off the commandments. “You know the commandments,” Jesus says, “You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal or bear false witness or defraud.” And this rich young ruler responds by insisting that he has kept all these commandments since his youth.

But notice here that Jesus so far has only referenced what we call the “second table” of the commandments. He only references the commandments that govern how we live in relationship with other people. Next Jesus zeroes in on what the precise problem is for this young man. Jesus looks at him with love – not out of spite or anger. He looks at him with love and tries to get him to see that his problem is with the first table. In fact, it was with the very first commandment: “You shall have no other gods.” His wealth had become his god.

“Sell what you own,” Jesus told him, “give the money to the poor – then come, follow me.” Now this young man had something he could do, but he just couldn’t do it! Sadly, he walked away from Jesus. “He went away grieving, for he had many possessions.” The young man thought he had kept all the commandments, but the truth was, he couldn’t even keep the first one! His wealth was the problem. His wealth had become his god. His wealth was what he looked to for comfort and meaning and purpose and joy. It was what was getting in the way of his relationship with God. And it was just too much to give up.

The point here is not that wealth is inherently bad. The point is that there will always be a commandment that will trip you up – usually the very first one! The point is that no one is good but God alone. The point is that if you ask what you must do to inherit eternal life, you’ve framed the question in such a way that you’ll never find it.

Wealth isn’t inherently bad or wrong, but it sure is easy to make it your god. Moreover, those with wealth, those with means, are used to seeing the world in such a way that it is what they do that earns them those good things. And oftentimes that is true! By doing good things like working hard and having goals and being patient and delaying gratification, you can earn wealth! But when you carry that mindset over to how you can have a relationship with God, how you can inherit eternal life, how you are saved, it just doesn’t work.

And so Jesus says, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the Kingdom of God. It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle that for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesus isn’t saying here that it is merely difficult.  I’ve heard all the goofy interpretations that try to make this a possibility. This is clearly a humorous way of saying it is impossible. It is an idiom not unlike how we might say something has “a snowball’s chance in you-know-where.” Jesus makes this crystal clear just a moment later!

The disciples ask, “Who then can be saved?” They too are shocked by what they are hearing. If this young, successful, upright, religious guy who has it all can’t be saved, then who in the world can?” And Jesus says, “For mortals it is impossible.” Despite outward appearances, no one is good but God alone, and so it is impossible to inherit eternal life by doing something. Even if you are given something to do, you won’t do it! This was tragically illustrated by this rich, young ruler! “For mortals it is impossible,” Jesus says. But that’s not all he says. He continues, “But not for God; for God, all things are possible.”

Dear friends, the impossible has been made possible through Jesus Christ, who came to be more than a “good teacher.” He has come to be our savior. He has come to make it possible for us to have a relationship with God, now and forever.

Jesus, himself young, himself possessing all the riches of God, himself the ruler of all creation, gave up everything for us on the cross – even then looking upon us with love. Jesus gave up everything to give us forgiveness and salvation and new life, now and forever. The question is no longer, “What must I do to inherit eternal life,” but “What has Christ already done?”

The impossible is made possible today as God speaks to us through his Word. God puts this tragic story of the rich young ruler in our ears in order to loosen our grip on our own wealth and instead take hold of Christ Jesus. God speaks to us through his Word of law and gospel to shatter our illusions about our own goodness and draw us to the goodness of Christ.

The impossible is made possible today as God moves our hearts through this good news to let go of everything that gets in the way of our relationship with him in order to take hold of the hope and peace and joy he alone can give us. Only in him do we truly have it all.

Thanks be to God. Amen.

Rev. Jeffrey R. Spencer

Oak Harbor Lutheran Church

NOV. 7: ALL SAINTS LUMINARIA WALK

NOV. 7: ALL SAINTS LUMINARIA WALK

In preparation for our All Saints Sunday Luminaria walk, you are invited to prepare a bag for one or more departed saints in your life. Bags can be picked up in the narthex, where you will find further instructions. Also, save the date and plan on joining us for this meaningful way to observe All Saints.